“My foot slips on a narrow ledge: in that split second, as needles of fear pierce my heart and temples, eternity intersects with present time. Thought and action are not different, and stone, air, ice, sun, fear, and self are one. What is exhilarating is to extend this acute awareness onto ordinary moments, in the moment-by-moment experiencing of the lammergeier and the wolf, which, finding themselves at the center of things, have no need for any secret of true being…To be anywhere else [but the present] is “to paint eyeballs on chaos.””( Dogen Zenji, Shobogenzo) (249)
-Peter Matthiessen The Snow Leopard
It has been over a year since I read Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard. I have read and listened to many other books since then, but I think more images from his expedition to mountains of Nepal have stayed with me than from the rest of the stories combined. It is a very beautiful book. What he saw, how it affected him, and the words he used to share the experiences really resonated with me. If I was going to write a review of it I would have to keep returning to the thesaurus to find all the possible synonyms for breathtaking.
If it had not been a borrowed book (Thanks, Jim) I would have underlined many passages, but towards the end the phrase “painting eyeballs on chaos” just reached out and grabbed me and I have been exploring it in my mind and in images ever since. Any one who knows my art work knows that for years I have literally been painting eyeballs (and hand and birds) on and in chaos. Depending on the piece, the day and my mood there are many explanations of what all those chaotic swirls of color and pattern might signify. There is not even a consistency within my portfolio as to whether the writhing shapes are positive or negative, internal or external, but they are certainly pervasive. However since spending so much time thinking on this phrase and what it meant to Matthiessen I have wondered how much of what I am trying to express in my art work could be simplified down to the problem of not being in the present and needing to get there.
Sitting down to write this post reminded me that I never read Dogen’s Shobogenzo that Matthiessen is quoting, so I have just ordered a copy. I have read many Christian Mystics whose focus on mindfulness I believe is very close to the Buddhist idea of Zen, but it will be interesting to see if his writing matches what I expect (well, if I can understand a 13th century Zen master at all). Recent correspondence and conversations on meaning with intriguing friends have my thoughts going in many different directions, but I feel like somehow they will all spiral back together to the importance of being present here and now.
Anyway, this post is not a book report, a dissection of the meaning behind my art, and certainly not a dissertation on philosophy or religion. I really just wanted to share that as I continue to explore these ideas I am now not only painting and drawing eyeballs on chaos, but I am tattooing them on as well!
One thought on “Painting Eyeballs on Chaos”
What a lovely post! I’ve never read The Snow Leopard, but you make it sound intriguing. I feel I should respond with a thoughtful comment that corresponds with your words or your art, but you know how my mind works. I’m all random association, all the time. I saw mention of Nepal, and my brain instantly went to a conversation I had once with my Nepalese friend, Ananda. On asking him if he’d ever attempted to climb Mt Everest while growing up in Nepal, he burst out laughing and delivered one of my favorite quotes of all time:
“Noooooo! Of course not! That’s for white people!!”